Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Constant Source of Influence

If I neglected to mention before now, I'm a nut for dandies, and the practice of dandyism. Whether that's an actual word or not doesn't matter a hang to me - as far as I'm concerned it's a fully legitimate art form, and worthy of a title. The great author Max Beerbohm considered it the most generous of arts, as the dandy himself bestows his creation upon all who see - rich and poor. Rather than relegated to the gallery or museum, the dandy's work is truly public in nature.

I'm inspired to write a bit about this today, as I've recently begun reading a biography on Stephen Tennant, one of the last of the true "exquisites". Though confined to his bed a great deal during his life, he spent his time lavishly among other artists and socialites, surrounded by beauty in many forms. Here's a famous photograph of the man in question:

To a far stronger degree, some years back I fell head-over-heels with Aubrey Beardsley, the divinely gifted illustrator who created a sensation in the late 19th century. And though it was his artistic contribution that started my obsession, I couldn't help but admire the heck out of his sense of personal expression. He was painstakingly collected, disciplined in his clothing and scrupulously clean (particularly for his time). He passed away at 25 years of age, but not without leaving behind an astounding legacy of beautiful work - in my opinion, so far ahead of its time that we still haven't caught up with him. One of the more well-known photos, a copy of which hangs - always - before my drawing board:

So help me, I love him more today - years after I first fell under his spell.

This reflecting reminds me of the day I was lucky enough to walk past the late Quentin Crisp - a man memorable for both his eccentric dress, as well as social commentary. I'd admired him before moving to New York City, particularly for his outspoken nature regarding his homosexuality, at a time when the lifestyle was a dangerous one. I was strolling up First Avenue, and felt a curious presence - I looked up, to see Mr. Crisp. His lilac pompadour, paisley jacket, flowing scarf and heeled shoes were enough - but his gentle, mincing walk and pristine expression made me want to stop, and bask a little in his energy. I was muted, too intimidated to say hello... and found out about his passing less than a year later. I regret the missed opportunity to introduce myself, but recall very warmly that little moment.

Here's to dandies, and their particular discipline. The drawing at the head of this entry is a detail (poorly scanned, I regret to say) of a piece I worked on about ten years ago - it features two dandies, in a decadent drawing room scene. I'd love to do more in that vein... such wonderful creatures.

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